Robert Rose serves content marketers food for thought

Robert Rose is a storyteller. It’s his vocation, his business, his podcasting hobby, his life. The story he tells most often to his audience of marketers is one of hope – that in a landscape characterised by constant demand, C-suite anxiety and accelerating speeds – content can cut through the noise and enable a healthier, more strategic, revenue-driving business.

Because let’s face it, said Rose: we’re not operating as efficiently as we could be, and the creep of mediocrity is visible on our shores. For large organisations especially, we’ve created a warren of departments that are given to jealous, senseless in-fighting for executive favours, where what does get done, doesn’t necessarily get done well. And then there’s the data – the stream that became a flood that became a waterfall. We have so much data surrounding us, it can sometimes feel hard to breathe.

How can B2B marketers take on these modern-day problems? As guests tucked into smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on brioche, Rose served up some answers.

Champion your content, and have a strategy

For content to be effective, it first has to be integrated. Rather than a departmental arm, it has to be in the brain centre of the business – or better yet, the DNA. What this takes is ‘internal championing’ – getting buy-in not just from the C-suite but the entire organisation.

To illustrate the point, Rose discussed a B2B software company in the US he’d worked with. They’d been sold on the idea of content marketing, and eager as anything to give it a whirl. Organically, they forged a journalism-led team as a mechanism for quality, and starting out, they felt optimistic. This was going to be good.

And it could’ve been – but they went in without a strategy. Soon, they were treated as just a vending machine for content, delivering whatever anyone demanded on the go. In other words, they were a reactive organ of business rather than a proactive one.

“The absence of a strategy means you’re just throwing stuff into the vacuum,” Rose said. It took five years for the company to develop a business case for why they were doing it, and by this time, the process, mentality and culture had become a lot harder to shift. “Getting buy-in early through communicating your value and purpose enables you to mitigate this.”

“If we decide to do content, let’s make it real,” Rose said. “It will save you so much headache and nightmare down the road.”

No really: strategy is everything

Once a strategy is mapped out, you’ve gone from being the lobby boy, expected to run about executing whims, to a thought leader capable of spearheading the business towards growth.

Rose referred this back to the ability to say ‘no’. If you have a plan to point to, when someone comes to you and asks for you to do an odd job, you have a reason to turn them down – and a reason that’s tough to argue against.

Build long-term value through content

ROI. It’s the ubiquitous acronym lodged at the forefront of everyone’s minds, though it may as well be in the hindbrain too, so primal is its force. But the way we conceive of ROI is extraordinarily fraught, Rose said. One of the reasons for this (though let’s face it: there are many) is because we’re still so jacked in to a campaign mentality.

“This myopia and short-term thinking – what’s going on this quarter, what’s going on this month – is insane,” he said. “We’re so focused on feeding the campaign monster, on immediate results, on generating leads, that we forget that we’re actually trying to build value.”

And we’re insisting on measuring content using these frameworks too – viewing it as just an alternative form of collateral. “We all know traditional advertising isn’t working anymore,” Rose said. “So we replace a traditional brochure with a viral video, and when it performs just the same, we think that asset isn’t working either. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. That’s the wrong investment model.”

Yes, content marketing takes time, and yes, it takes money, Rose acknowledged. Of course it does. You can’t get to quality any other way. But “the level of investment we’re making has got to be commensurate with the value we’re making over time,” he said. “And the value we can achieve in the long run [through good content] is an exponential rise.”

Use the Big Rock model

“How do you identify from your content what can be repurposed? How do you know the shelf life of something?” Kudos to an audience member for these questions, which found resonance throughout the room.

Basically, Rose said, it goes back to strategy. And one of those strategies is known as the Big Rock. Producing piecemeal, disconnected content and then trying to mash it together into a bigger piece is typical throughout industries. But it’s not smart. For an analogy, imagine you’ve cooked up a dozen or so different dinners – and they’re excellent dinners – but now you have to somehow blend them together into one single consumable dish. No one’s going to head to that buffet table.

Instead, decide upon what you want to be good at – the conversations you want to own – and build your Big Rock content around that. Draw up a strategic editorial calendar and decide how you’re going to break off pieces from that big piece – blogs, webinars, white papers – and selectively feed them across channels and platforms, looping and linking back to the original as a matter of process.

“It’s so much easier to break big things into little pieces when you’ve thought about them strategically,” Rose said, “rather than look back at all the crap we’ve created in the last 18 months and go, ‘How can we mash that up?’”

Keep your customer at the centre

This is the challenge: truly understanding that the customer is at the heart of all we do, Rose said. Yes, it’s a marketing truism by now (we hear it almost as much as we now hear the phrase ‘thought leader’).

“But it shouldn’t be trivialised, especially for large or legacy organisations,” he said. Not if we want to do it right across all the moving parts and all the touchpoints.

“To be leaders of our organisation, we need to take responsibility to become customer-centric.”

Watch a bonus interview here

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About Kate Prendergast: Kate Prendergast is a Content Producer at Mahlab. She strategically smashes out insights and case studies for the company website, and does her insuperable best to make the most of free pens, coffee and calamari at marketing conferences. In her down time, she reads Nabakov, watches BoJack Horseman and Werner Herzog, and creates mildly disturbing art under the alias Tenderhooks. She has renounced all social media except – to her overwhelming horror – LinkedIn. Redemptively, her network remains small.

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